“Hada, Kilita, Salista, Arabata, Hamishte”.
And again… “Hada, Kilita, Salista, Arabata, Hamishte”.

I was in the shadows of the Gheralta Massive in the Tigrai Region in the far North-Eastern corner of Ethiopia, being taught to count to five in Tigrigna, the local dialect in the region.

I had tried and unfortunately failed to scale the magnificent Gheralta Massive to reach the very remote church of Debre Mariam Korkor.  Whilst I was waiting at the bottom for my friend to return from the top I was sat under the shade of a tree reading up about the rock church that I did not manage to see.  Within five minutes of me being there, I could see young kids who had come from nowhere edging ever closer to me.  A smile and a wave seemed to break the barrier and soon I had eight children giggling and laughing around me.  With neither of us able to communicate to one another there was a lot of hand gestures and laughing, soon I was counting to five in Tigrigna and they were counting to five in English.

We moved onto another church within the more accessible area of the Gheralta Massive and on our way back we walked past a homestead where lunch was being prepared.  Our guide started chatting to the lady of the homestead and we were invited in and offered some Injera – the staple diet in Ethiopia, made from the grain teff. Looking like a pancake and vaguely like carpet underlay I was slightly apprehensive about giving it a go but as they say “When in Rome…”. I tore a piece off and dipped it into a spicy stew that was offered. It was so delicious it soon became our meal of choice throughout our journey in Ethiopia.

The Tigrai region is one of Ethiopia’s best-kept secrets.  With tourist-free churches and stunning semi-desert areas, the backdrop of sandstone monoliths has made this area one of my favourites in Ethiopia.  The famous churches of Lalibela are magnificent in their own right and definitely not to be missed but here in Tigrai you feel just a bit closer to this magnificent country.

As our time in Tigrai drew to a close, I sat out on a rocky outcrop watching the sunset on this astonishing beautiful corner of Ethiopia.  With the golden light reflecting off a field of teff below me my thoughts start drifting to what most people think of when you mention Ethiopia; the devastating famine which occurred in this country and in particular the Tigrai region in 1984/85.  I am so pleased that although those images will not be forgotten by me I now have newer more positive images to think of.  Images of smiling faces, images of kids laughing, images of families sharing, images of rivers flowing and crops flourishing.

Thanks for reading

Author: Bridget Cohen